The trials and tribulations of international travelflight delays, missing or damaged baggage, and increasing limitations on said baggagecan be enough to frustrate even the most patient and seasoned world traveler. But despite an almost incredible confluence of problems flying to Kristiansand, Norway, for Punkt 2010, once there all such problems were forgotten. Punkt is simply too important an event each year to be tarnished by extraneous (and, ultimately, irrelevant) distractions. Still, delays and the result of baggage issues effectively resulted in missing much of the first daycentered on the release of EDGE: Contemporary Music from South Norway
(Self Produced, 2010), and featuring artists local to the region, including the remarkable saxophonist Froy Aagre
, rock-edged improvising guitar power trio Bushman's Revenge
, electronic musician Terje Evensen and forward-thinking piano trio Splashgirl
It was a tremendous shame, but even catching only two of Punkt 2010's three days meant hearing a remarkable wealth musical innovation across a wide spectrum of musical styles in a short, concentrated space. Punkt isn't a jazz festivalits 2010 line- up included jazz performers to be sure, like trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer
, groundbreaking improv group Supersilent
, the duo of singer Sidsel Endresen
and guitarist Stian Westerhus, and saxophonist Hakon Kornstad
, but it also featured singer/songwriter Unni Wilhelmsen, an 80th Anniversary concert featuring an Estonian choir performing the music of classical composer Veljo Tormis, and rock group Serena Maneesh. But with improvisation a key component of its defining conceptLive RemixPunkt always easily fits within a broader jazz continuum.
Since its inception in 2005, Punkt's reputation has gained increasing visibility on an international scalea true achievement, considering how physically small the festival is. But small though it may be, Punkt has always been a festival that thinks big
Punkt takes place in a relatively small town of under 80,000 people, but small in Norway is a far different beast than small in North America. Kristiansand's Agder Theatre, with its 550-person capacity, will be replaced with Kilden in 2012a stunning complex including a theatre more than double the Agder's capacity, but also encouraging artistic innovation and collaboration by housing a theater company, a symphony orchestra and more under one roof. That, in and of itself, would be enough to distance Kristiansand from any North American town of similar size, but the town also has an impressive art gallery, a lively cultural community with artists known on local, national and international fronts, and, perhaps most importantly, Cultiva
: a local initiative, now a few years old, that invests interest income on sale of excess electricity back into local culture to support new initiatives.
Fish Market, Kristiansand, Norway
New initiatives like Punkt. When producers/musicians Jan Bang
and Erik Honoré first conceived Punkt early in the 21st century, their concept of Live Remix was stunningly fresh and innovative. The two Artistic Directors envisioned a festival with no boundaries; where any style of music could be fodder for these Live Remixes, where concert performances were immediately followed, in another room at the Agder Theatre venue (The Alpha Room), with a performance that brought together other musicians to create further interpretation/expansion onor, at the very least, music inspired bythe show that came before. The Live Remix often brought musicians together who had never metmuch less played togethera real-time laboratory where the no-boundaries concert performances were inspiration for even more unfettered experimentation. That Punkt's Live Remixes can vary widelyfrom failed experiments to music that can actually surpass its source materialonly means that, with Punkt, the journey sometimes means more than the destination. To be sure, some Live Remixes succeed more than others, but they're always
The past five years of Punkt have featured artists ranging from the cream of Norway's modern jazz sceneincluding keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft
, trumpeters Molvær and Arve Henriksen
, guitarist Eivind Aarset
, singer Endresen, saxophonist Kornstad, and, of course, Bang and Honoréto international artists such as drummer Bill Bruford
, ambient forefather/producer Brian Eno
, classical composer Gavin Bryars
, contemporary British pop group Sweet Billy Pilgrim
and, perhaps the conceptual founding father of Punkt, Fourth World trumpeter Jon Hassell
. The festival has also been a place to hear up-and-coming artists like Splashgirl, Jarle Bernhoft and Albatrosh
But more than simply bringing an outstanding roster of performances and Live Remixes to Kristiansand every year for three or four days, Punkt is about an expanding network of peoplemusicians and journalists, yes, but also just plain friends
who believe in Punkt as a means to expand the frontiers of music in an organic and thoroughly positive fashion. And with Punkt as much a concept, a philosophy, an aesthetic
, it's also a moveable feast, having been brought to London, England in 2008
and Mannheim, Germany in 2009
. There are firm plans for a Punkt in Tallinn, Estonia in 2011, and discussions underway for possible forays into the North American market. You never know what is going to happen at Punkt; but you can be sure that, each and every year, existing relationships are strengthened, and new ones forged, that will result in future collaborations both within and outside the purview of the festivaland perhaps, even, a Punkt coming to a place near you.
As innovative as Punkt isa full history of the festival's conception and more can be found in an extensive 2010 All About Jazz interview
with Bang, surrounding the release of his first album as a leader, the deep, dark and beautiful ...and poppies from Kandahar
(SamadhiSound, 2010)like any festival, it faces the challenges of longevity; even an innovation as groundbreaking as Live Remix can become stale over time. With the festival in its sixth year, Punkt now faces the same challenge of all established festivals: how to remain relevant?
With a track record that has seen Punkt expand into new areasmusically and otherwiseeach and every year, there's little chance the festival will lose its creative edge or its growing reputation as a point in time, a place in the world, where innovation is de rigueur
and attendees can be assured, each and every year, of experiencing one-time eventssometimes planned, even more often completely unexpectedthat will never be seen or heard ever again.
Faced with the same challenges of global recession as all festivals around the world, Punkt 2010 chose to reduce to a three-day festival, rather than the four days of 2009
a clear sign of the festival's uncompromising dedication to quality over quantity. It may have been a shorter run, but, if anything, Punkt's attention to quality actually improved in 2010. There was the usual pristine sound in both the main theatre and
The Alpha Room, thanks to a remarkable seven-person team of sound engineers; and Tord Knudsen's main theater lighting continued its track record of augmenting each and every performance with visuals far beyond that of most festivals. In order to place the focus on the laboratory-like nature of the Live Remixes, The Alpha Room has traditionally featured no set design or special lighting, but, for the first time, the 2010 edition of Punkt included some very spare lighting and understated attention to how the artists were set up in the 250-person room, successfully creating a visual shift between Live Remixes that mirrored the significant set design changes on the main stage, but without distracting from the most important aspect of The Alpha Room: the musical experiments taking place.
The Agder Theatre
In addition to a remarkable lineup that brought Supersilent to Punkt for the first time, and saw the return of festival regular Nils Petter Molvaer with his new trio, and the CD release concert for Bang's ...and poppies from Kandahar
, Punkt Festival 2010 featured a surprise guest who, already a legend in the history of rock and roll, will Surely place the festival on the radar of an entirely new demographic. But more about that later. Chapter Index
September 3 Puntk Seminar: Sidsel Endresen
- September 3 Puntk Seminar: Sidsel Endresen
- September 3 Punk Seminar: Supersilent
- September 3 Concert:Veljo Tormis 80th Anniversary, Performed by Segakoor Noruus
- September 3 Live Remix: Maja Ratkje
- September 3 Concert: Jan Bang: ...and poppies from Kandahar
- September 3 Live Remix: Dino J.A. Deane/Håkon Kornstad/Anders Engen/David Wallumrød
- September 3 Concert: Skúli Sverrisson a>
- September 3 Live Remix: Sidsel Endresen/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré
- September 4: Boat Trip/Kilden
- September 4 Concert: Unni Wilhelmsen
- September 4 Live Remix: Mungolian Jet Set
- September 4 Double Concert: Sidsel Endresen/Stian Westerhus and Knut Reiersrud
- September 4 Live Remix: Dino J.A. Deane/Nils Petter Molvær
- September 4 Concert: Supersilent and a Surprise Guest
- September 4 Live Remix: Jan Bang/Jon Hassell/ Skúli Sverrisson/Erik Honoré
- September 4 Concert: Nils Petter Molvær Trio
- September 4: Post-Punkt Party and Festival Wrap-Up
One of the world's most innovative singers, Sidsel Endresen has, over the past three decades, honed a distinctive improvisational approach based on the creation of tiny vocal cellsorthodox and unorthodox techniques that range from odd linguistics to reverse-sounding utterances, stuttering gutturals and, at the core of it all, a profoundly beautiful
approach to melodism. Ultimately becoming a seamless part of her musical DNA (the way extended techniques do for other instrumentalists), Endresen combines these cells in a weird and wonderful approach that, in addition to placing her voice upfront as is its conventional role, also allows her to act as a textural, accompanying backdrop.
Watching Endresenor listening to her work on albums such as One
(Sofa, 2006) or, even better, in a group context on Live Remixes Vol. 1
(Jazzland, 2008)it's hard to imagine just how she conceived her inimitable improvisational approach, but in a repeat and expansion of her 2009 Punkt Seminar
, the singer not only shed some light on how she does what she does, but used her audience to show
them, by encouraging participatation in some directed free improvisation.
Over the course of 50 minutes, Endresen gradually introduced concepts of melody, time and dynamics, pushing her audience, most importantly, to listen
to what was going on around them, and learn to respond...sometimes with silence, as Endresen emphasized the fact that, in improvisation, the act of not
singing is as intentional and active
a choice as singing itself.
Of course, Endersen's discourse about how she came to her very personal style was just as enlightening. Not a fan of scat singingthough with no shortage of appreciation for those who do/did it, such as Ella Fitzgerald
Endresen's early days in the pop/jazz world could have been enoughand would have been, for most singers. But Endresen was dissatisfied, and relatively early in her career, chose a path that challenged what the human voice could do, and what its roll was. Not content to be a frontline instrument, Endresen began to explore ways to allow the voice to become a background texture; to resolve the linear connection of singing, find new means of expression and dramaturgy using purely musical parameters, imbue influences from a variety of cultures without actually imitating them, and find a way to reconcile intuition with intellect.
It was an enlightening seminar, where Endresen led by example but managed, by encouraging audience participation, to not only articulate how she has developed her unique (and still evolving) vocal approach, but captured and imparted some of the true essence of improvisation, dispelling some of the fear and uncertainty often experienced by newcomers to its basic tenets.September 3 Puntk Seminar: Supersilent
If Endresen prepared her audience with some of the basic concepts of improvisation, the following seminar by Norwegian noise improvising group Supersilent built upon them, bringing the idea of creative collective spontaneity into sharp focusfirst, through a short performance; and then, through an informal question and answer period, where its three membersArve Henriksen, Ståle Storløkken and Helge Stentalked both with the audience and, playfully, amongst themselves, to shed some light on how they
do what they do.
From left: Ståle Storløkken, Arve Henriksen, Helge Sten
Since first bursting onto the scene with the groundbreaking 1-3
(Rune Grammofon, 2007)an uncompromising three-disc set that set all the basic parameters for the group in motionSupersilent has become one of the world's most unfettered improvising groups. Nothing is forbidden; everything is allowed. The group can move from extremes of volume, density and dissonance to softer passages of profound beauty and tempered space over the course of a long, unfolding period of time...or in a nanosecond. Conventions of melody, harmony and rhythm are available but not definitive or unshakable parameters. Initially a quartet with Jarle Vespestad, but reduced to a trio a couple years back, when the drummer decided to focus more exclusively on other projects, even the group's instrumentation is fluid. Initially a trumpeter, Henriksen, whose Cartography
(ECM, 2008) was one of the year's best
, has evolved a singing voice ranging from falsetto purity to near-throat singing gutturals, and a drumming style that substitutes sound
for rudiments. Sten first came to light with Motorpsycho
, but has since become an in-demand producer and audio manipulator. And Storløkken, a charter member of guitarist Terje Rypdal
's Skywards Trio who has, more recently, garnered attention for his remarkable keyboard power trio, Elephant9
, is a master of keyboard manipulation, an outstanding composer/arranger, and a fearless sonic explorer.
Together, the trio works with no boundaries, able to create infinite sound worlds from the smallest kernel of an idea; its most recent release, 9
(Rune Grammofon, 2009), is the result of three intrepid improvisers and nothing more than three Hammond organs. For its seminar, the trio worked with a more expansive instrumental palette, performing two vastly different improvisations. The lengthy first piece demonstrated how, even in the realm of free improvisation, it's possible to think in terms of song, structure and bigger picture. Nothing is preconceived, yet when the first piece ultimately came to an end nearly 25 minutes after it began, it referred back to the spare lyricism of its opening minutes, despite traveling through some undeniable extreme territory. Henriksen effortlessly shifted from drums to trumpet to voice to pocket trumpet, while Sten combined low-end synth tones with ambient guitar soundscapes and Storløkken layered melodiessometimes oblique, sometimes almost singableamidst angular textures coming from feeding his Fender Rhodes through an array of effects. A shorter second piece began more definitively, with Storløkken's rhythm-centric keyboards and Henriksen's thundering drums, but ended much more rapidly; evidence of the group's ability to follow each other and collectively intuit when to move on and when to stop.
With seminar moderator Tony Valberg kicking off the Q&A period, it soon became clear that Henriksen was the most comfortable spokesperson for the group; a more playful (mischievous, even) contrast to the relatively introspective Sten and Storløkken. Still, the two verbally reticent players contributed to the discussion; they may not have spoken often, but when they did, there was significant meaning. Henriksen spoke, at length, about the trio's attention to sound
, and how things changed when he, Storløkken and Vespestadmembers of an earlier group in the 1990s called Veslefrekkwhen they began to work with Sten (a.k.a. Deathprod), who he also referred to as the "brains of the group." A fair statement, when considering that, in any given year, Supersilent might record tens of hours of improvisations, to be sifted through and shaped into a single 50-60 minute release by Sten, who also acts as Supersilent's producer.
Sten also explained that, while Supersilent might edit the beginning or ending of a piece to create more appropriate entry/exit points, what you hear is what went to tape. Surprisingly, given Sten's predilection for sonic manipulation, there's almost no post- production editing or sonic manipulation. All of which makes Supersilent's remarkable body of work, that will expand significantly this year with the release of no less than three albums10
(Rune Grammofon, 2010), recorded before the 9
sessions and the group's first recordings as a trio but, another first, made at Oslo's legendary Rainbow studio and featuring Storløkken on acoustic
(Rune Grammofon, 2010), a vinyl-only release of additional material from the particularly fruitful sessions for 8
(Rune Grammofon, 2007); and 12
, from another trio sessions that took place at Athletic Sound following the Henie Onstad Art Centre sessions that resulted in 9
all the more
extraordinary. That this now-trio of musicians can work so effortlessly with sound and concept in real timecreating music that may be all- improvised, but inevitably possesses true shape, true formmakes it stand out amongst the groups that rely on post-production to bring these characteristics to their music.
From left: Ståle Storløkken, Arve Henriksen, Helge Sten
With certain things visible during the group's performancea nod here, a smile, there the question of preconception also came into play at the seminar, and it was confirmed that, while Supersilent uses visual cues to make split-second decisions about direction, none of it is discussed in advance. Henriksen's nod to Storløkken at the start of the second improv was nothing more than an indication to "go!," while Storløkken's nod in Henriksen's direction, towards the end of the first improv, was nothing more than an acknowledgment, "this is good, let's keep going." That Supersilent has never rehearsed, per se
, doesn't mean that its individual players don't rehearse for their work with Supersilent. That Henriksen, Storløkken and Sten are busy in a variety of other projects only means that their extracurricular workand tireless work at home, exploring the possibilities of their various instruments and the acquisition of new onesresults in a constant expansion of Supersilent's already infinite potential. It seems hard to grasp that something infinite can continue to evolve; but like a universe that continues to expand after the Big Bang, Supersilent's 1-3
Big Bang, and the trio's subsequent work has proven no limits to what it can do. September 3 Concert:Veljo Tormis 80th Anniversary, Performed by Segakoor Noruus
Along with Arvo Pärt, composer Veljo Tormis is one of Estonia's most important cultural exports. Like Pärt, much of Tormis' writing stems from a tradition steeped in religious tradition and folklore. Unlike Pärt, however, Tormis' primary focus has been on choral works based on runo songs from Estonian folk tradition, and the connection between the Baltic state and Finland, which is Estonia's geographic neighbor, less than 100 kilometers across the Gulf of Finland in Northeastern Europe. The idea of bringing Tormisa traditionalist, if ever there was oneto Punkt might seem antithetical to the often technology-centric festival; but Jan Bang's interest in contemporary classical music runs deep and wide, in past years bringing composer Gavin Bryars to the festival (a recording of his 2008 performance
has, in fact, been released in 2010 as Live at Punkt
on GB Records); putting together the ambitious Wagner Reloaded Project, which brought together a strong orchestra with live samplers, drummers, keyboardists and more at Punkt 2006
; and recruiting Jon Hassell for a rare performance of his pre-Fourth World composition, "Solid State," at Punkt in 2007
Segakoor Noorus Choir, Raul Talmar Conducting
And so, bringing not only Tormis, but the 32-piece Estonian Segakoor Noruus Choir, under the direction of Raul Talmar, was completely consistent with Punkt's goal of bringing any and all music to the festival that might be appropriate for reinterpretation in Live Remix. Dressed in traditional Estonian clothingthe women in black dresses, white blouses and cylindrical red and gold hats; the men in austere black suits with white shirts and hatsthe moving cycle of 11 pieces (some including multiple songs, such as the five-part suite from "17 Estonian Wedding Songs") began with the 13 women alone, singing a gentle Estonian lullaby for soprano and female choir, "Lauliku Lapsepöli ("Singers Childhood"), from Litany to Thunder
(ECM, 1999). Solo voice ebbed and flowed throughout the song, as it did throughout the set, but this was largely chamber choral music, more about collective intertwining harmonies and contrapuntal parts.
When 13 of the 19 men joined in, the choir's range expanded accordingly; yet again, when the balance of the men came onstage about halfway through the 45-minute performance. Despite the size of the Agder Theatre's stage, the riser on which the male singers stood, behind the women, was barely large enough to contain them, and when a percussionist joined inplaying a single large gong but culling a remarkable variety of tones and texturesfor the explosive "God, Protect Us From War," it almost seemed as though the theatre itself wasn't large enough to contain a choir capable of singing as quiet as a whisper or as loud as a storm. Tormis' source material, coming from sources as diverse as "The Arrival of the Wedding Guests," from "Votic Wedding Songs" on Forgotten Peoples
(ECM, 1992)in a language so close to extinction that in2005, The Economist
suggested that there were only 20 people speakers leftto the surprisingly rhythmic "Forced to Marry a Man," from Forgotten Peoples
' "Vespian Paths," came together in a journey that crossed cultural, religious and traditional boundaries, culminating in the dark "We Are Given," ending mid-sentence with "Still we feel the... / Still there is air in..."
As static as the choir was, conductor Talmar was a commanding focal point throughout the performance, moving across the stage and encouraging the various members of the choir. Sitting in the front row, it was possible to hear him quietly blow on a pitch pipe and provide a brief hummed segment of the first line of each piece, to give the choir key and tempo. But with Tormis' music demanding in its harmonic complexity, ranging from glorious consonance to disturbing dissonance, it was a remarkable performance made all the more stunning for Segakoor Noruus' broad demographic ranging over 50 years. A couple of the younger women had body piercings, and it was clear that, while they were steeped in a cultural tradition, they were also young women who, outside the choir, were involved in many of the same pursuits found amongst their peers. It spoke to a possibility to be both contemporary and
a part of a cultural tradition; a combination that, sadly, is a rare commodity in North America. September 3 Live Remix: Maja Ratkje
It's hard to imagine a better choice to remix Tormis' music and Segakoor Noorus's performance than Maja S.K. Ratkje
. Ratkje, a multidisciplinary electro-acoustic composer/vocalist, is comfortable in the world of contemporary classical music, having delivered her own masterful River Mouth Echoes
(Tzadik, 2008) and both composition and vocals to Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli
's more folkloric but still far-reaching Passing Images
(ECM, 2007). She's also a founding member of the all-improv group Spunk, whose 2008 performance at Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville
was a highlight of the Canadian left-of-center festival.
Unlike Sidsel Endresen, who works completely acousticallythough often finding herself in electronic environs through the company she keepsRatkje's work involves extended vocal techniques, but also an extensive personal setup of computer, Theremin, sound processing and assorted other devices to create expansive sonic landscapes. Ratkje appeared, in fact, at Punkt 2009
, on a double bill with Endresen, that brought into sharp contrast the two singers' radically different but unmistakably innovative and experimentalapproaches to expanding the possibilities of the human voice.
And so, Ratkje's remix of Tormis was a stunning example of remixing, reinterpreting and expanding upon source material from a considerably different space. It was also an early sign that Punkt 2010 was making some subtle changes to its Live Remix presentations in The Alpha Room. Rather than just a couple of small stands with red globe lights to provide the barest illumination, a combination of smoke and gently swirling lighting augmented Ratkje's remix, not so strong as to be distracting from the laboratory work going on, but, instead, drawing the attention into it. Ratkje used snippets of the choir from various points throughout the performance, sometimes creating a lush backdrop of looping, over which she added her own voice, which ranged from pure and melodic to sharp punctuations, created with a small microphone that she actually, at times, kept inside her mouth. She used the airiness of breath, squeaks and squeals, and other unusual textures, sampling them on the fly, processing them, and adding them to an increasingly densifying mix; the volume, too, began to increase, with occasional gut-punching bass shots reaching almost ear-splitting levels.
Watching Ratkje manipulate sound was as impressive as watching Jan Bang do the same. With what looks like a mad scientist's nightmare on a desk in front of her, Ratkje's knowledge of every piece of gear, every device, was so thorough, so intimate, that she worked on an instinctive rather than intellectual level, manipulating her gear with the same natural ease that she manipulated her voice.
As capable as she was of vocal gymnastics, Ratkje never did anything without a purpose, as she pushed and pulled Tormis' music into shapes the composer likely never could have conceived, but which he apparently loved, after it was over. The choir, too, could be seen in the packed Alpha Room, oftentimes appearing shocked and stunned at just how much Ratkje managed to be revere the performance and
dispense with its orthodoxy. As the first remix of the evening, Ratkje set the bar incredibly high for what was to come. Fortunately, the rest of her Punkt mates were up to the challenge. September 3 Concert: Jan Bang: ...and poppies from Kandahar
When Punkt Co-Artistic Director Jan Bang released his first album as a leader, ...and poppies from Kandahar
(SamadhiSound, 2010), he described it as a continuation of the collaboration he started with Arve Henriksen on Cartography
(ECM, 2008). But while samples were fundamental to Henriksen's record, there was still no shortage of real-time playing taking place. While Bang sent files around to individual musiciansmost of them, part of the extended Punkt familyto layer additional performances, what makes the record unique is Bang's compositional approach, culling samples from performances spanning the last several years, and hearing connections between them, that the live sampler would use to create the atmospheric journeys that make up the album.
And so, with an album built mostly from samples, how would a live performance of ...and poppies
sound? Well, by bringing together some of the album's most significant playersin addition to Henriksen, trumpeter/keyboardist Jon Hassell, singer Sidsel Endresen, sampler/synthesist Erik Honoré and Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson
Bang shaped a band capable of bringing the album to lifenot only delivering much of the album's extant structure, but expanding upon it, turning relative miniatures like the Endresen feature, "The Midwife's Dilemma" into something far greater.
Performed in the same sequence, Bang's performance also allowed for some interplay that wasn't exactly possible on the record, even though some of the sampled performances were, in fact, culled from other
live performances, where interaction took place. The twin trumpets of Hassell and Henriksen on the album's longest track, the sensually grooving "Passport Control," came from the Fourth World progenitor's Punkt 2007 closing remix
of a performance by keyboardist Burnt Friedman, drummer Jaki Liebezeit and reedman Hayden Chisholm, where Henriksen was an invited guest. Bang could have reused that sample for his Punkt 2010 performance, but by featuring the two trumpeters in the flesh, it allowed for the same kind of unpredictability that inspired Bang's writing in the first place.
Bassist Lars Danielsson On Projection Screen, from left: Jan Bang, Jon Hassell
As with the album, the music ranged from painfully beautiful to, at times, dark and disturbing, with visuals that suited the sometimes amorphous, always shifting nature of Bang's music. There were few breaks in the set, most of the music flowing as continuously as it did on the record, with Bang, as ever, finding rhythm in every nook and cranny. Despite being the leader of the performance, he took his usual place at the far end of stage left with minimal lighting, greater visual focus placed on the soloists, ranging from Endresen, whose stuttering yet harmonically centered vocalizations on "The Midwife's Dilemma" were an early highlight, along with Henriksen's near-vocal trumpet. Danielsson, who only appears on one track on the CD, the abstract "Self Injury," brought a firmer sense of pulse to pieces like "Passport Control," while Hassell's trumpet on the album closer, "Exile from Paradise," provided one of the set's most haunting moments.
Until, that is, "Exile from Paradise" segued into the title track to Endresen's 2000 Jazzland recording, Undertow
. It was a sample from that song that Bang used to build his own album closer, and so it made perfect sense to draw his live set to a close by performing the song in its entirety. If Endresen's more oblique excursions into vocal improvisations leave anyone doubting the gorgeous quality of her voiceand her ability to evoke a range of emotions with the subtlest of inflectionsthis performance set any such concerns to rest. That her more experimental work retains an inherent musicality is beyond question; but hearing her perform an actual song only makes clear just how significant a singer she has been and continues to be.
From left: Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang
Selfless, as ever, it's this kind of "check your ego at the door" thinking that has made a festival that engenders tremendous loyalty (discussions around the festival this year raised the question: "has anyone ever not
liked a Punkt festival?" The resounding answer: "No."), and a burning desire to attend each and every year. That Bang has taken the live sampling conceptinnovated in the mid-1990s with Bugge Wesseltofthis already extensive studio background, and a giving personality that encourages everyone around him to deliver the best they can, to turn in one of the year's best records is no surprise to anyone who knows him. That he was able to take a recording that was the epitome of studio concoction and turn it in to a live performance of gentle beauty and profound depth may have been no surprise either; rich, and filled with the emotions that comprise the complex human condition, it's clear that Bang's artistic reach is matched only by his humility and unfailing generosity. September 3 Live Remix: Dino J.A. Deane/Håkon Kornstad/Anders Engen/David Wallumrød
The beauty of Punkt and its Live Remix concept is how its family continues to expand with each passing year. Musicians come to the festival for the first time and are instantly drawn in; others may have been here before, but find themselves collaborating with friends both old and new. An intriguing quartet was put together for the Live Remix of Bang's performance. A past collaborator with Hassell, and with a sizable discography under his own name, J.A. Deane began life as a session trombonist in the 1970s, but in the ensuing decades has become increasingly involved in the electronic side of things, moving into the arena of live sampling, in addition to being an ever-reaching experimentalist with new instruments like the three-string lap steel dulcimer he had built for him recently by Quintin Stephens. Deane made his first appearance at Punkt in 2009 as part of percussionist Adam Rudolph
's large Go: Organic Orchestra
. This year, in addition to this remix, he organized the festival's opening show on September 2, conducting students of the University of Agder, as well as delivering a seminar on performance/improvisation and live electronics.
Saxophonist Håkon Kornstad was no stranger to Punkt, having performed in contexts ranging from his groundbreaking group, Wibutee, in 2006
, to a solo performance in 2008
, where his use of looping and unorthodox instruments like the flutonette (a flute with a clarinet mouthpiece) made it one of the festival's most impressive sets. Keyboardist David Wallumrød and drummer Anders Engen were new to Punkt this year, but with performances at this remix and the following day with singer/songwriter Unni Wilhelmsen, it's a certainty that they'd become members of growing Punkt family.
The remix was more about interpretation than remix, though Deane did incorporate pieces of Bang's performance, creating layer-upon-layer of sonic washes as a context for Kornstad, whose combination of extended techniques and electronics continues to evolve. Harmonically static, Engen created the gentlest of pulses, while Wallumrød augmented the remix with his own soundscapes. Still, ten minutes into the remix, Endresen's vocals from "The Midwife's Dilemma" suddenly appeared, sparking some staggered responses from Kornstad, who was perhaps most familiar with the singer's work, having performed with her in a series of duo concerts
in 2009. Moving to flutonette, Kornstad, in particular, demonstrated open ears to the movement around him; while his personal focus is increasingly on solo performance, sets like this, his all-improv 2010 Kongsberg show
with drummer John Hollenbeck
and bassist Skúli Sverrisson, and his work in violinist Ola Kvernberg
's "Liarbird" show at Molde Jazz
earlier this summer, prove that he's lost none of his ability to work in spontaneous collectives.
The quartet's remix may have appeared somewhat static on the surface, but the multiple layers and a gentle sense of forward motion made it a suitably sublime rework of Bang's transcendent ...and poppies
performance. September 3 Concert: Skúli Sverrisson
Perhaps best-known in recent years for his work as musical director for avant-popster Laurie Anderson, participation in drummer Jim Black
's AlasNoAxis, and some hard-hitting fusion on guitar icon Allan Holdsworth
's Hard Hat Area
(Restless, 1994), Icelandic bassist Skúli Sverrisson's own music, in particular the richly layered, heartfelt Sería
(12 Tónar, 2007) (winner of the Icelandic Music Awards
' "Album of the Year") leans more towards composition than performance. Not that Sverrisson isn't a terrific bassist; he is, but with a personal approach that eschews most standard bass conventions, substituting textural and chordal harmony for groove and centering.
From left: Skúli Sverrisson, Eyvind Kang
For his first visit to Punkt, Sverrisson brought a unique chamber group to perform music from Sería
, as well as a new album that's been recorded and is due out any day. Fans of Bill Frisell
fortunate enough to have caught the guitarist on tour this summer
, with his Beautiful Dreamers trio, will have seen violist Eyvind Kang; here, with Sverrisson, his role was more interpretive, performing the bassist's sublimely structured compositions. Less about defined solo space and more about collective ambiance, Kang's ability to play at levels so quiet it was almost necessary to lean forward to hear him, made him a compelling lead instrumentalist throughout the set.
Cellist Hildur Gudnadottir provided more pulse than Sverrisson, occasionally adding wordless vocals to the mix, while keyboardist David Thor Jonsson provided textural backdrops with work inside and out of the piano box, and subtle synth colorations. Sverrisson played his five-string electric bass more like a guitar, with finger- picked arpeggios often driving the music, as well as expansive sonic washes created via strumming, a volume pedal and a variety of effects processing. His writing was almost hypnotic, seemingly static on the surface, but revealing movement over time. The overall ambiance was hushed, with traces of folk music and contemporary classical music imbuing a set that seemed to morph seamlessly from one piece to the next.
Again, Tord Knudsen's lighting augmented the music perfectly, with constant shifts as gradually unfolding as the music; a backdrop of floating stars gradually intensifying only to shift to vertical bars of gray, creating a visual travelogue to the aural one being created by Sverrisson, Kang, Jonsson and Gudnadottir.
Following earlier performances by Bang and Tormis/Segakoor Noruss, Sverrisson's set completed a trifecta of shows heavy on subtle shadings, and dynamics so subtle that the barest of changes felt intense and dramatic. Whether or not Punkt had a theme in mind for its Friday performances (and the closing double bill that ended with the aggressive rock stance of Serena Maneesh would suggest not), its programming of these three artists turned out to be ideal; combining elements from so many sources to further the idea of Punkt as a festival that doesn't just bend the rules, but thoroughly demolishes them. September 3 Live Remix: Sidsel Endresen/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré
As much as Jan Bang explained, in his 2010 All About Jazz
interview, how Punkt strives to find artists to perform in the main theater that would be perfect fodder for remix, choosing who
to do the remix is equally important. Sometimes, pairing up musicians who are encountering each other for the first time forges new relationships that continue on; other times, bringing together artists who know each other so intimately that the remix becomes almost an extension of their other work together can yield terrific results. Ban and Erik Honoré have been collaborating since their teen years, and have worked with Sidsel Endresen for nearly two decades. Bringing the three together for the final remix of the night was perfect; few understand the concept of Live Remix better than the two who created the concept, and Endresen has proven, time and again, to be an astute listener and interpreter.
Endresen began the trio's remix of Sverrisson's performance alone, with Bang and Honoré gradually introducing processed fragments of the bassist's music into the mix. Greater emphasiz on Gudnadottir's cello dominated the first half of the remix, with a kind of hovering feelingnot unlike that of Sverrissondefining it, as Bang's body language expressed a hidden pulse as an electronic beat began to emerge, and Endresen's voice was sampled, harmonized and looped.
From left: Jan Bang, Sidsel Endresen
More a starting point than a full remix, the comfortable communication between the three pervaded, with Bang smiling as Endresen began to sing a particularly haunting melody, and Honorérarely moving, but communicating with his trio mates on a more subliminal levelbrought in stronger elements of cello, viola and piano. Like the remix of Bang's own performance, this trio's rework and expansion of Sverrisson's music retained its innate beauty, but layered additional colors and unexpected rhythms to demonstrate just how far a remix can go, while never losing site of its reference points.